Rare Bearded Vultures Spotted in French Alps After Disappearing For Decades

1_6_Bearded Vulture
Picture taken 20 April 2007 shows 'Melchior', a young Gypaete Barbu, a bearded vulture, 20 April 2007, 20 days after his birth, in the Park du Puy du Fou, in Les Epesses, western France. It is the first time a gypaete barbu is born in a French zoological park. Frank Perry/AFP/Getty Images

Decades ago, the biggest raptor in Europe—called the bearded vulture or the lammergeier—disappeared from the French Alps. But recently, the birds appeared again, flying high over the mountain range.

Thanks to humans, every single bearded vulture in the region was killed off in the early 20th century, The Local reports. Two were finally reintroduced to the area in the 1980s and eventually produced an offspring a decade later, according to Le Monde, a daily French newspaper.

Despite reappearing, there's still a very limited number of bearded vultures out there.

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"There are only about 120 bearded vultures being kept in zoos and breeding centers across Europe, Asia, and the United States," Leslie Pray, a researcher turned science writer wrote in the journal Nature in 2008. "Given these numbers, biologists are concerned that there is not enough genetic variability in the captive birds to keep either the captive or the wild population thriving over the long term."

The birds—which can have over an 8-foot wingspan—have many fables and legends concerning it, perhaps making it the most impressionable bird, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) reports. It was often feared because of legends that claimed they kidnapped elderly women and attacked sheep and young children. If that's not concerning enough, the creature's diet is sure to make some people feel uneasy.

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It's the only animal who primarily feasts on bone, which is how it received its "bone-eater" nickname. In order to break up the skeletons, the vultures throw them down from mountaintops, "and immediately descends after them in a characteristic spiral," according to WWF. They then chow down on the bone marrow first and even swallow some pieces whole.

"This dietary habit seems odd, but once bones have been digested, they are a nutritious and easily storable type of food; in addition, the bird faces minimal competition for this type of food," according to WWF.

In 2016, the wild bird was spotted for the first time ever in the U.K., Newsweek previously reported. They're more commonly found in France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Slovenia, Germany.